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Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder

Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder: The Black Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O’Dell

Edited and Introduced by Nikhil Pal Singh
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 334
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppxfh
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  • Book Info
    Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder
    Book Description:

    This book collects for the first time the black freedom movement writings of Jack O'Dell and restores one of the great unsung heroes of the civil rights movement to his rightful place in the historical record.Climbin' Jacob's Ladderputs O'Dell's historically significant essays in context and reveals how he helped shape the civil rights movement. From his early years in the 1940s National Maritime Union, to his pioneering work in the early 1960s with Martin Luther King Jr., to his international efforts for the Rainbow Coalition during the 1980s, O'Dell was instrumental in the development of the intellectual vision and the institutions that underpinned several decades of anti-racist struggle. He was a member of the outlawed Communist Party in the 1950s and endured red-baiting throughout his long social justice career. This volume is edited by Nikhil Pal Singh and includes a lengthy introduction based on interviews he conducted with O'Dell on his early life and later experiences.Climbin' Jacob's Ladderprovides readers with a firm grasp of the civil rights movement's left wing, which O'Dell represents, and illuminates a more radical and global account of twentieth-century US history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94506-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction “Learn Your Horn”: Jack O’Dell and the Long Civil Rights Movement
    (pp. 1-68)
    NIKHIL PAL SINGH

    The black freedom movement raises specific problems of representation, narration, and memory. How we imagine its scope, the terminology we choose to tell its stories, and the way we situate its development in time determine our qualitative assessments of its successes and failures and give shape to its political significance and contemporary relevance. Legions of scholars over the past three decades have formed a remarkably comprehensive picture of the long history, local people, indigenous organizing traditions, behind-the-scenes activism, international dimensions, and principled, often radical demands that have made up the modern black freedom movement.¹

    This body of work, however, does...

  5. Part One Tracing the Freedomway

    • Report on Voter Registration Work, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
      (pp. 71-79)

      In each of the past six years, the SCLC Annual Convention has been called around themes that were particularly timely for our era. Last year, as you remember, the convention’s theme was “The Deep South in Social Revolution” and this theme reflected the convention’s estimate of the character of this period of change in the South. “It is,” the convention stated, “a social revolution,” and in our day-to-day work we are constantly being required to assess the dimensions of this revolution.

      This year’s convention’s theme, “The Diversified Attack on Segregation,” once again represents a theme which flows out of our...

    • Foundations of Racism in American Life
      (pp. 80-101)

      In recent years, it has become an almost universally recognized and accepted truth in our country that the number one domestic issue confronting the American people is the struggle to overcome racism in American life. No issue has so tested the real quality of American civilization; no issue has so commanded the attention of the civilized world to contemporary American experience; no issue has consumed the energies of more dedicated lives or exacted greater heroism than has the struggle to abolish racism and its institutionalized forms in our country.

      A hundred years ago the most profound moral-political crisis in the...

    • Editorial, Freedomways Special Issue on Mississippi
      (pp. 102-109)

      During the past several years in which the struggle for human rights in our country has reached a crescendo level, the state of Mississippi has periodically been a focal point of national interest. The murder of young Emmett Till, the lynching of Charles Mack Parker in the “moderate” Gulf section of Mississippi, the “freedom rides” to Jackson, the events at Oxford, Mississippi, and the triple lynching of the martyred Civil Rights workers, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, have, figuratively, imprinted Mississippi on the national conscience. In response to the national concern arising from such events, most writings about Mississippi have been...

    • The Threshold of a New Reconstruction
      (pp. 110-123)

      The freedom movement has now reached the most decisive moment in our history, more ripe with possibilities for major advances or serious retrogression than any period since the overthrow of the first Reconstruction. All that has gone before—all the great events, from the Niagara Movement led by Du Bois, to Montgomery, Little Rock, Birmingham and Selma were merely landmarks pointing the way to the present watershed at which the movement has now arrived. For this is our Rubicon, “the point of no return”; the struggle to complete the restoration of full political-governmental power to the black community in the...

    • A Colonized People
      (pp. 124-144)

      The revolutionary movements against colonialism which have been sweeping the continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America, especially since the end of the Second World War, are like a mighty wave battering the walls of oppression. Involving in one form or another the destinies of nearly two billion people, these movements of social emancipation are tearing away at the very roots and seams of the Western world’s institutional system of colonial exploitation and its countless indignities. “Before I’ll be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave” has become the theme of determination of unfree peoples whether in Vicksburg or...

    • The July Rebellions and the “Military State”
      (pp. 145-159)

      There is a currently popular American folksong whose lyrics speak philosophically concerning time and the turn of the seasons.

      What was earlier in this decade described as our summers of discontent, now turns into seasons of growing popular revolt against the conditions of life in America. The war in Vietnam continues as does the determined popular resistance to the war by large sections of the American people. The Military Establishment grows more brutal and arrogant, at home and abroad. The freedom-consciousness of the black ghettos becomes more articulate in act as well as in word, as one of the major...

    • Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder: The Life and Times of the Freedom Movement
      (pp. 160-176)

      The assassination of the pre-eminent leader of the Freedom Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a moment in history compelling in the seriousness of its importance. Our aspirations to live in a civilized society in America are tied to this tragedy, perhaps in more ways than are now evident.

      Europe questions the “stability” of U.S. society. Africa sends a large contingent of its diplomats to the funeral, each wearing the insignia reserved for those solemn occasions when a Head of State has died. People all over America and the world strain to understand what it all means.

      With boundless...

    • Charleston’s Legacy to the Poor People’s Campaign
      (pp. 177-191)

      In this current age of many-leveled communications, millions of people are put in touch with a particular situation as the realities of that situation are communicated to them via television and news media. More often than not, while being caught up in the contemporary as spectators or as activists, we are at once put in touch with the long span of history which has helped to shape the contemporary situation. So a particular development which is brought to our attention in 1969 is really opening up for examination the roots of a situation which may date to 1690, and we...

    • Report of the Acting Executive Director, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
      (pp. 192-198)

      We meet at a time when the present society in which we live is in a state of crisis; it expresses itself in every area of the life of this society. A war economy, growing unemployment in the war-oriented industries, inflation that is radicalizing the middle class, and a virtual epidemic of dope addiction are only some of the most evident features of this situation. The United States is in a state of protracted civilizational crisis and the basic decision for SCLC is whether it is to become part of the crisis, or mobilize its resources and moral authority to...

    • A Rock in a Weary Lan’: Paul Robeson’s Leadership and “The Movement” in the Decade before Montgomery
      (pp. 199-214)

      A panoramic view of the United States of America at the end of the Second World War and the decade that follows (1945–1955) points up the surfacing of a number of political and social contradictions of such a magnitude as to leave their indelible mark on the present period in our national history.

      The development of the Freedom Movement of Black AmericanssinceMontgomery, Alabama, is much better known to the average movement activist and citizen of our country. However, it is impossible to understand in any comprehensive way the journey we have traveled “from Montgomery to Memphis” without...

    • An Assessment: PUSH’s First Five Years and Its Next Five
      (pp. 215-221)

      Since its birth in December, 1971, PUSH has been feeling its way towards becoming an organization of national importance—touching upon pieces of truth in the objective everyday realities we are operating under and struggling to tie together these pieces into a comprehensive whole that would represent a system of organization through which time will guarantee maturation. We have touched Black businesses and their problems; touched performing artists and sports professionals in their problems, especially in the area of management; touched Black executives in white corporations; touched clergy of all denominations who have a certain social consciousness, awareness of the...

    • On the Transition from Civil Rights to Civil Equality
      (pp. 222-254)

      The question is often asked, “Whatever happened to the civil rights movement?”

      The question is not as obscure nor the answer as complicated as it may seem. The civil rights movement of the mid-century decades was a phase in the historical development of democratic rights in the United States. As such it achieved its stated objectives by first abolishing law-enforced segregation and ending disenfranchisement of the black population in the South. Having achieved these objectives the movement for civil rights was transformed into a movement to complete the tasks of the Second Reconstruction by winning greater representation for the black...

    • The Rainbow Coalition: Organizational Principles
      (pp. 255-260)

      As a Presidential candidate, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson defined the Rainbow Coalition as representing “the progressive trend in U.S. politics.” In this post-election era where do we take this; how do we give this definition endurance?

      The Rainbow Coalition represents the Peace and Justice movements for social change entering the electoral arena, as an independent force.

      We are independent in the way we arrive at political positions in both domestic and foreign policy. This means we are not tied to the positions of any party—and are free to relate, in an independent way, to either of the two major...

  6. Part Two Contemporary Reflections

    • Democracy Charter
      (pp. 263-273)

      This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of three significant events in the post–World War II period. This is the fiftieth anniversary year of the Bandung Conference, held in Indonesia in 1955; the Congress of the People, held in Kliptown, South Africa; and the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama.

      Each of these was a seminal event in its own right. The Bandung Conference gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement and established the prospect that the struggle to abolish colonialism would be victorious. The meeting in Kliptown, South Africa, adopted a Freedom Charter to guide the movement to abolish apartheid, at...

    • Reclaiming the Second Reconstruction: Democracy, Class, and the Social Transformation of the United States
      (pp. 274-294)

      Forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King publicly accepted the invitation to be co-chair of the organization Clergy and Laity Concerned at a meeting sponsored by the organization at the Riverside Church in New York. He opened his remarks by saying that he was using the occasion to break silence concerning the Vietnam War and to point to some objective challenges beyond Vietnam. The four decades since Dr. King delivered that speech have been rich in experience drawn from the struggle of movements in many areas of our national life. Tens of thousands of people have been directly involved in...

  7. Afterword: Growing Light in a Dark Time
    (pp. 295-297)
    Jack O’Dell

    Few of us have ever confronted the cascade of problems that we face today in every part of the country. Jobs lost, pensions lost, small businesses closing, health care costs rising, environmental degradation spreading, and the quality of our children’s public schools in critical decline: these are indeed difficult times. These situations, though systemically related to one another, more often than not appear to us in our daily lives as separate conditions. Yet all are symptoms of a general crisis in the political economy of the United States. The effects of this crisis on the public have not reached the...

  8. Editor’s Note
    (pp. 298-298)
  9. Index
    (pp. 299-319)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 320-320)